- What started as a small seed at Cranborne United Methodist Church in 2010 “has now blossomed into a big act of worship in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area,” said Joseph Mushambi.
- After its success at Cranborne, Mushambi introduced the concept in the Harare East District. It started with a few circuits, but today it has almost 100% participation.
- The giving is not limited to crops, as some offer up livestock, cash or their first salaries of the year.
On the first Sunday in February, the Rev. Daniel Mutidzawanda hauled a giant pumpkin into the sanctuary of Chisipiti United Methodist Church as part of a celebration lifting up the first harvest of the season to God.
The pumpkin was an offering from 86-year-old retired pastor the Rev. Zebediah Marewangepo, who proudly entered the sanctuary carrying bushels of rape and tsunga — a gift from another church member, 85-year-old Mavis Karuma.
Congregants celebrated wildly in appreciation and thanked God for protection against the wrath of COVID-19 and other challenges.
The Zimbabwe Episcopal Area has adopted the first fruits concept of offering in which church members bring the best portion of the initial harvest as an offering to God.
In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to present the first fruits to the Levitical priesthood, which then served as food in the house of the Lord in a ceremony called “the feast of the first fruits.”
The Rev. Alan Masimba Gurupira, administrative assistant to Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, said The United Methodist Church is founded on biblical principles and traditions. “The celebration of first fruits,” he noted, “is, indeed, biblical; hence, it is sound for the church to practice. Though there is no traditional practice in the UMC of the same, it means those who have begun the practice have broken new ground.”
Gurupira expressed hope that the spirit embodied in the celebration would “engulf the entire church.”
He likened the movement to the popular tradition of harvest thanksgiving, which was initiated by Marewangepo at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Harare.
“Similarly, the celebration of first fruits is gradually making traction in church life in Zimbabwe after it was initiated by Joseph Mushambi, a member at Cranborne (United Methodist Church),” Gurupira said.
Mushambi, Zimbabwe East Conference stewardship and temperance chair, recalled a dream in 2010 in which he initiated the first fruit offering in addition to the harvest thanksgiving and tithing.
At that time, Mushambi chaired evangelism for the Harare East District. Now, he serves on the district Board of Discipleship, overseeing stewardship, temperance, evangelism, worship and Christian education.
“The special responsibility we have as the Board of Discipleship,” he said, “is to ensure that the concept of first fruit is implemented in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area. We have made several presentations during lay training, (conference) academies, pastors’ retreats and circuits. The concept is being well received.”
Most congregations in the circuit celebrated first fruits on Feb. 6, and the district included it on its liturgical calendar.
“First fruits,” Mushambi explained, “is a religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest. In classical Greek, Roman and Hebrew religions, the first fruits were given to priests as an offering to the deity. In some Christian texts, Jesus Christ, through his Resurrection, is referred to as the first fruits of the dead. Beginning in 1966, a unique first fruits celebration brought the ancient African harvest festivals that became the African American holiday Kwanzaa.”
First fruits appear in the Old and New testaments and are mentioned in relation to both spiritual and physical offerings.
“The biblical first fruits offerings are found in Deuteronomy 26:1-14, Leviticus 23:10-11 and Proverbs 3:9,” Mushambi said. “The first fruit offering was instituted by God in the Old Testament. It was actually celebrated as a festival once every year in Israel.
“First fruits still have an application for us today as an offering to God of the increase in income that we receive. What started as a small seed at Cranborne United Methodist Church in 2010 has now blossomed into a big act of worship in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.”
After its success at Cranborne, Mushambi said he was tasked with launching the concept in the Harare East District.
“It started with a few circuits adopting it, but (today) it is now almost 100% participation.”
In biblical times, a person put some of the first product in a basket, took it to the temple, stood before the priest and proclaimed what God had done. The priest then took the basket, waved it before God for it to be accepted and placed it on the altar. With the offering on the altar, the priest declared good things on the giver.
“By giving the first fruits,” Mushambi said, “Israel acknowledged that all good things come from God and that everything belongs to God. It is a prayer to God to protect the harvest that was yet to follow.
“Today, people give the portion to paying allegiance of the first salary of the year, just like the first harvest of Israel. It is also practiced as a prayer that your employer or business will continue to thrive so that your livelihood will continue under the blessing of the Lord. It is God who gives the increase because the law of God is multiplication.”
Mutidzawanda, pastor in charge at Chisipiti United Methodist, invited Mushambi to share the concept with his congregation in 2019.
“This was received with mixed feelings,” Mutidzawanda said, “but we continued to cultivate the idea. In 2021 and 2022, we started to practice this concept. We are looking forward to growing in the spirit of giving the first fruits.”
Hubert Chiwara, a member of Chisipiti United Methodist Church and former Harare East District lay leader, said the district adopted the first fruits concept in February 2020 after a presentation by Mushambi. That year, five circuits celebrated the first fruits in the district. In 2021, the number increased to 12, and in 2022, all but one circuit celebrated.
“Nehemiah 10:35 instructs us to bring first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of every tree year by year,” Chiwara said. “When we are obedient, we are assured in Proverbs 3:9-10 that God rewards faithful giving by meeting our needs.
“At Chisipiti UMC, we have seen the gifts presented grow and the number of participants increase over the three years,” he said.
Chiwara is excited about the first fruits concept.
“The church has created an environment and opportunity where congregants can worship by giving God first. We acknowledge that God is sovereign in possession of all things. We need to worship him and show appreciation for what he has done for us.”
The Rev. Tariro Mukwindidza, pastor in charge of Ruwangwe United Methodist Church in the Mutasa Nyanga District, began teaching his congregation about first fruits and praying for a positive response.
“Members brought their crop seeds at church before planting,” he said, “and I prayed for them. During harvesting, they brought the first fruits, cash or livestock or items from nonagricultural projects and gave to the Lord at different intervals because crops mature at different times.”
The Rev. Annie Zvingowanisei, connectional ministries director for the Harare West District, said the district held its celebration on Feb. 27 in all 13 circuits after teachings on first fruits were done through Christian studies.
“Most of the circuits responded well,” she said. Receipts are still being compiled.
“One member at Bindura United Methodist Church gave two bulls as their first fruit,” Zvingowanisei said. “Some gave green maize and cash.”
The Board of Discipleship suggests that congregations set aside the last Sunday of January or the first Sunday of February as the day of the celebration of the first fruits. “We recommend that everyone be given an opportunity to offer their first fruits from their first salaries of the year, first incomes from the companies, first increases,” Mushambi said.
“This will just act as the ceremonial day of celebration, but it is possible to see a first fruit offering every Sunday in the offering basket since the above events can happen to individuals at different times.”
Chingwe is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.
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